…. and not from bullets or bombs. I spent last week in Iraq for work but managed to find a running club So there I was at 5.30 in the morning trotting round a pristine track in the middle of the Sami Abdulrahman Park. It was absolutely brilliant, nice springy surface and 4 circuits came to 5 km which was my target for my short runs this week. At that time in the morning the temperature was also perfect – around 25.
It isn’t really how I had imagined war torn Iraq, this peaceful oasis with birds singing and a cool covering of trees. There was a real mix of people running. There were pairs of very dignified Kurdish men with large moustaches. If you are over the age of 35 and a Kurdish male you have to have a proper moustache – one that if you cut it off and stuck it on the end of a handle you could brush the floor with. A young girl shared a couple of circuits with me, she was studying computer science and wanted to live in Germany. She either ran or swam every day. My favourite person was Khalid, a short, slim guy in his sixties who ran really fast but with tiny steps. It was slightly disconcerting as he kept running backwards so he could chat to me. There was also a rather sedate couple walking at a steady pace round the track, the wife was fully veiled with a long, heavy, black dress and only her eyes showing, but with very high-tech trainers.
Erbil is in the north of Iraq in the autonomous Kurdish region. It appears to be very secure, and very rich. Sitting outside a restaurant one night, I counted 20 $130,000 4x4s pass by in about half an hour. But there is an undercurrent there and I didn’t feel like wandering around on my own too much. The first night, there was gun fire outside my hotel – apparently just an argument over a girl. When I did go down to the main square and bazaar, I caused quite a stir. Wissam who was minding me kept laughing and translating what people what people were saying which was, “What’s THAT? Did you see it?” Not sure how I feel about being described as an it.
I was in Erbil doing an evaluation of a journalism and civil society training programme run by Internews and it was certainly an interesting week. All the talk was of corruption, money, bribes and how to get the country moving forward. I met internal displacees from Baghdad who praise the peace and tolerance in Erbil but sorely missed their vibrant life in the capital.
Training this week:
3 x 5 kms
1 x 11.5 kms